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Saturday, July 23, 2011

In spiritual shadow: Seeking answers and my struggle with hope...the famine in East Africa.

This week I’ve sat in spiritual shadow.  My typical day usually starts with a cloaking of positive affirmations.  Mostly self love and self-empowerment as I aim to reach my fullest potential  and nurture self sustainable happiness. Most days I’m amazed by the real power of positive thought, projection and reflection.  But the escalating awareness of the East Africa famine has altogether placed me in a funk.  My sorrow is deep and as equally isolating is my inability to manifest solution.  One media outlet has recognized the famine,  as of present,  “The World’s Worst Humanitarian Emergency.”  I guess what  I’m trying to say is that I’ve come to a crossroads as to my own ability to emotionally, spiritually & existentially come to grips with such catastrophic humanitarian devastation.  I’m heavy laden in a fugue of disbelief, tremendous sadness, helplessness and hopelessness.  Everyday, I help to bring new life into the world. It’s virtually impossible for me to conceptualize the loss of life of tens of thousands of newborns, infants and children from dehydration and starvation.  I’ve donated hundreds and yet I feel like that modest contribution is but a grain of sand against a vast desolate desert.  So many have already perished.  Of course I’ve contemplated the option of joining  Doctors Without Borders, OXFAM, Unicef etc.  But like many,  I have the commitment of a job and inflexible financial obligations that just aren’t sympathetic nor acutely amenable to my desire to “click my heels three times” and arrive in the Dadaab refugee camp.  I truly respect, admire and give honor to the countless  international aid workers who sacrifice other "traditionally recognized" higher standards of living to work within some of the most  bleak, barren  and  brutal conditions on the globe. 

Without question I find myself perseverating in a cerebral and emotional pool of privileged guilt, powerlessness and earnest spiritual disorientation.  In less dramatic circumstances, I would have simply professed : “hope is enough, love is enough, compassion is enough, positivity  is enough.”  Yet, with each moment that I type, countless suffer and many more die.  It’s just not enough…

As devastatingly crippling as the mass loss of life has been my fruitless quest to try and understand why.   Some culturally responsible reading has helped me to understand certain aspects of the political and eco-agricultural complexities behind the famine.  But that by no means helps to find peace with millions of infants, children, women and men at risk of dying from something as universally available and taken for granted as food and water.  I struggle to hold on to hope.   At the end of the day, like all tragic events in history, countless lives will be forgotten and life will move forward. How is that acceptable, comprehensible and personally negotiable? What’s worse is that I’m here - thousands of miles away - so unfathomably un-contributory to a real answer and solution.

Despite my struggle with strained optimism, my promise to the "collective will of humanity" is to continue praying, continue caring and to maintain a voice of awareness. 

Amidst sorrow and what looms as unsurmountable circumstances,  I do understand that to "give up hope" is just the same as giving up.  And when I lay down to rest at night, and awake embracing a new day...the heart of me knows  that "giving up" is simply not acceptable.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

About Dr. Strickland

Dr. Tomekia Lynn Strickland is a twin and the youngest of three siblings. Born and raised in Atlanta, she attended Benjamin E. Mays Academy of Math and Science. It was there that she was introduced to  Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and soon became involved in biomedical research.  This lead to multiple awards at the local, state and national science competitions and ultimately set the pathway to returning to Morehouse School of Medicine to complete her Doctorate of Medicine.

She majored in Biology at Agnes Scott College, a prestigious liberal arts women’s college in metropolitan Atlanta. While at Agnes Scott, she was inducted in the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and awarded the Mary Angela H. McLennan Medical Fellowship. During this time, a fellow dorm mate and friend-who ultimately became Miss Georgia- convinced Tomekia to compete in the Miss Georgia Teen pageant. Having never participated in such an event before, she competed and placed in the top 4!

She entered medical school under full scholarship as a National Health Service Corps scholar, a scholarship program under the Department of Health and Human Services. During medical school, she received several other top research awards including the Dr. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Disease Fellowship Award by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) based on research completed at the Alaskan Native Hospital in Anchorage.  She also spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa working in a prenatal clinic for HIV positive women. Her journalistic depiction of that experience was published in the Journal of Minority Medical Students.

Dr. Strickland was profiled in the news nearing completion of medical school where her acceptance to MSM OBGYN residency program was televised. She completed her OBGYN training at Grady Memorial Hospital in June 2005. During residency she was featured again in the news with delivery of the first baby of the New Year in Atlanta in 2002! She was also involved in women’s contraceptive and sexual health research which was presented at national conferences including the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology Annual Clinical Meeting and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  She was awarded the Dr. Nelson McGhee Service and Humanism award and the top laparoscopic surgeon award. 

In 2005 she  was featured in Atlanta’s Jezebel Magazine as one of  the “50 Most Beautiful Atlantans.”  She was photographed amongst the ranks of famous athletes, actors, models and business executives.

After residency, Tomekia continued her relationship with the Department of Health and Human Services and accepted a position as an OBGYN with the Indian Health Service.  She spent just over four years living and working on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, AZ. It is  the largest Native American reservation in the country. This new and exciting life in the Southwest embraced a rare and intimate exposure to rural Navajo culture and the valuable integration of native healing with traditional western medical practice.During her time with the Indian Health Service, she received several hospital service awards as well as developed and was director of the first substance abuse in pregnancy program.

In May of 2008, she was inducted as a Fellow in the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology after having fulfilled all of the requirements to become a certified Diplomat of The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Dr. Strickland recently relocated to Southern Arizona where she now practices Obstetrics for the premiere and largest Maternal Fetal Medicine group serving that region of the state.

She has an evolving and expanding presence within the global women's health community, with collaborative long term goals involving women's health programs in Haiti.  The current humanitarian crisis surrounding the famine in East Africa has reignited a deeper passion for humanitarian service. She recently joined the UNICEF volunteer team as an Advocate for Mothers and Children and actively follows as well as regularly donates to humanitarian, maternal child health and other community organizations. These include: Women For Women International, CARE, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), AmeriCares, Partners in Health, Alicia Key's "Keep a Child Alive", The World Food Program (WFP),  The UN Refugee Blue Key Campaign, Hill Harper's youth empowerment organization "Manifest your Destiny", Christy Turlington's Every Mother Counts and the Liya Kebede Foundation.  She is also attending the 2011 Global Health Conference in Montreal, Canada in November.

Her approach to patient care:  "Speak love. Yield to compassion. Honor courage. Heal with hope."

Her words to live by: " Help. Heal. Love. Inspire"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where it came from... (Why I became an Obstetrician)

People often ask me why I chose to deliver babies.  The following is a brief perspective...

My grandmother and great grandmother both brought life into the world...and I don’t just mean their own children, which were many.   They were lay obstetricians and lay midwives. They were “home grown” practitioners of birth.  There were few other folks in those deep dampen rural parts of Southern Georgia  who were committed  to and available for such type work.  “Ushering in the next generation” my grandmother would call it. I remember her firmly counseling me in my most junior state of physician-hood; “Young lady….do you know that you ain’t doing nothin’ new? I was birthin' babies long before you ever got here...”  Those words would embrace my soul forever.  My sense of novel familial professional accomplishment wasn't dismissed, but rather reinforced with a different source of pride as I realized my calling into women’s health was far greater than a self derived pursuit.  The natural affinity to care for women was already in my blood…it was already a part of my lineage. It was a legacy planted deep within me from the pairing of two amazing women who paved the way for my inspiration, motivation, passion and purpose.  For them I am thankful. For them I deliver babies...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

This Baby Born (My first experience with maternal loss)

Been wanting to unload my saddened spirit of this for some time now.  I was working on native land...in canyons that still echo voices of the ancestors.  There was a deep moving energy of healing in that place. Native chants…belly resonating drums…brilliantly hued regalia, centuries old. Long onyx hair on every woman. Unforgettable turquoise stone.  Sage brush…corn pollen…the sweet smell of ceremonial tobacco.  Sweat lodges billowing steam from volcanic-like glowing wood. Purging…confessing…praying in a commune of thick heated air.  I shared in this sacred place. I cared for the mothers.  My hands bore witness to hundreds of births. They shunned our methods of pain abandonment.  It was quiet grace in labor. Some squatted (like the memorable scene from Dances With Wolves). Others pulled from a sash affixed to the ceiling. I thought it leverage to the forces of labor. The cardinal signs were visible, branded above the bed.  It gave direction for prayer.  I saw medicine men working sacred magic over womb and infant. The chants arose again. Incense infused every ether in the air. They were making  right with the spirits.
This mom I met on the day of her labor.  My age.  She had one child...I had none.  The day seemed normal , if such is ever so.  In the room on the far left she labored peaceful through the night.  2am…as the moon shown strongest,  I’m summoned. I ran…labored breath to her bedside.  Skin once glowed now ghost. Where did she go? Scores of people worked to re-salvage life.  Decision demanded…I crusaded to the operating table.  Baby born.  Mother in heaven. 
We call it an amniotic fluid embolism.  A vexing  phenomenon...
Babies rarely live.  Mothers often die.
But, this baby born…this baby born…this baby born.
Her cry was beautiful…triumphant…knowing.  
She cried with piercing intensity the passage of her mother’s soul.
I cried…I cried…I cried…
But, this baby born.